A former senior officer of the Pakistan Air Force has written a couple of interesting articles in the past few days. In his first article, he recommended that Pakistan shed its “Kashmir baggage” and focus on its economy. Regarding the economy, he has prescribed that Pakistan establish close economic cooperation with India. Dismissing Pakistan’s principled stance as “rhetoric,” he sagely advises us to shed it. Then, in his next article, he again bluntly declared, “Ideology inspires but should never be the master. Realism is. Unless rhetoric derived from ideology is shelved, it shall drive ambition, which is mostly misplaced.”
Interesting thoughts indeed, though not original by any stretch. There are more than a few glaring problems, though.
On reflection, it appears that these arguments and pieces of advice are both theoretically and practically unsound.
Let’s discuss practical matters first.
Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry has noted that despite their enmity, India and China have a robust trade relationship. He has suggested that Pakistan should also put its enmity with India aside and replicate the Indian approach to China when dealing with India. He wants Pakistan to become part of a “tri-nation consensus” with India and China. It seems as if it’s only Pakistan’s “enmity” towards India, fueled by “ideology and rhetoric,” that is holding Pakistan back from an economic bonanza by jumping into India’s benevolent and open arms!
The mutual trade volume between India and China in 2021 was approximately 125 billion dollars, with Chinese exports totaling 97 billion. Pakistan’s trade volume with China was about 23.6 billion dollars, with Chinese exports standing at 20.6 billion. Now, one has to ask, if political “enmity” is the only thing holding Pakistan back, why does Pakistan have such a miserable trade relationship with China as compared to India? Doesn’t it have something to do with the fact that our rental economy and industry have almost nothing to offer to foreign countries? Our subsidy-addicted industrialists, our apathetic and corrupt bureaucrats, and a general lack of confidence in the country’s economy both inside and outside Pakistan are probably much more important factors here. And even if we “shed the rhetoric,” these much more important factors will continue to impact our trade and economy.
Then there are other practical problems in trading with India as well. I am sure the retired Air Vice Marshal is fully aware that even if a firecracker bursts in India, they close the borders and all sorts of trade. The “enmity” is such that India can’t even let a Punjabi film screen in the Indian Punjab, and can’t even let Pakistan host a cricket tournament on its soil! Even if we beg India for economic cooperation and it “magnanimously” agrees, what would happen? Our industry and agriculture are no match for India’s, and it would be very easy for India to swamp this country with cheap and better products. Soon, the already teetering industry and agriculture in Pakistan will surrender to their cheap Indian counterparts.
On the other hand, we will not be able to gain any sort of significant market share in the huge economy of India. As a result, India will gain remote control over Pakistan by gaining the ability to cause immense economic pain to Pakistan by halting all economic activity on the barest of pretexts. In exchange for “enjoying” some cheap Indian products for a few years, we would become hostages to the whims of the BJP and Modi! The economy is indeed a national security issue, and by tying ourselves up to India, we will compromise our national economy and security.
On Road to Tri-Nation Asian Consensus
My practical suggestion to the respected AVM (and all others parroting this line) is:
First, build a robust economic relationship with China (a friendly and more advanced country than India) and other friendly countries, and then try to upgrade the Pakistani economy so that we gain a comparative advantage in some key economic areas. Before jumping into Indian arms, fix the structural problems plaguing the economy at home. Once we have achieved that, we can calmly work towards a point when, instead of a one-sided economic relationship, we will be able to build a mutually dependent economic relationship with India. Then, we can offer India the chance to cooperate in the interests of both nations.
Only two interdependent economies can further the march toward peace.
Then we can talk about the “tri-nation Asian consensus” as well. On the other hand, the economic relationship between a huge economy and a hostage economy is the surest recipe for the former to destroy the latter through a combination of economic measures, strategic maneuvers, and finally military intervention.
Now, let us briefly discuss the glaring theoretical fallacies in the respected AVM’s argument.
These are even more dangerous than his myopia about practical matters. According to him, realism, not ideology, should be the master. A few questions come to mind here. What is realism? Is it defined by what benefits and ensures the survival of the nation, or is it measured by the amount of bread available to the poor or the luxuries available to the elite? It seems as if only ensuring the lifestyle of the top 5% of Pakistan is the object of this “realism.” Even if we surrender to India, the top 5% will either serve as Indian touts (as Unionists did for the British) or safely relocate abroad. The remaining 95% will endure slavery, ignorance, and poverty, as the victors will suck every drop of blood out of them (as the British once did).
Defeatism Over Ideology?
Actually, what the respected AVM is proposing has nothing to do with realism. It’s called defeatism. He is telling us to give up our ideology, principles, Kashmiri brethren, and so on in exchange for economic submission to India, because Pakistan, in his opinion, no longer stands a chance against India. Vidkun Quisling had similar arguments! This reminds me of the end of the Second Punic War. The Romans had triumphed at Zama, but Carthage still had the capacity to keep on fighting. On the other hand, the “peace” being offered by the Romans was nothing more than a death sentence for the Carthaginian nation. Recognizing this, Carthage’s gallant commander, Hannibal, opposed the capitulation disguised as peace. But the Carthaginian elite was more concerned with safeguarding its “private” well-being. So it decided to accept the Roman offer. A disgusted Hannibal commented, “How true it is that we feel public misfortune only insofar as it affects our private interests!”
Yes, India’s economy is 11 times our size, and its military is 3 times our size.
But the answer does not lie in denying the undeniable reality that India has been hell-bent on Pakistan’s destruction since 1947, and it still is.
The Kashmir invasion of October 1947, the brazen and unlimited support for secession in East Pakistan, the adventure at Siachen, the sponsorship of terror outfits like the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), the consistent efforts to isolate Pakistan, and rampant Islamophobia in Indian society make it amply clear to all but the blind and deaf that India intends nothing but fragmentation and destruction for Pakistan and the Muslims of South Asia.
Defeatism didn’t save Grenada in 1492, Czechoslovakia in 1938, or Libya (doomed to a destructive civil war after surrendering its nuclear programme for “geo-economics”). On the other hand, resolute will, a belief in the nation’s ideology, and a spirit of sacrifice by both the commoners and the elite to ensure national survival led Turkiye (after WW1), Britain (during the early phase of WW2), and North Vietnam (1954–75) to overcome impossible odds and obtain glory for their respective nations and ideologies. The tenacity displayed by Iran (in contrast to Libya) has enabled it to absorb immense pressure from enemies much more powerful than India to maintain its independence and survival. Sure, its elite doesn’t enjoy a fraction of the luxuries of our elite, but the education and nutrition standards of the population are much better than Pakistan’s.
The Pristine Vision
The respected AVM says, “Ideology inspires but should never be the master. Realism is. Unless rhetoric derived from ideology is shelved, it shall drive ambition, which is mostly misplaced.” Iqbal and Jinnah would be horrified! If it weren’t for ideology, Pakistan wouldn’t exist in the first place.
And, here, by the way, I would like to mention that a tangential point buttressing our ideology was the fact that South Asian Muslims could never expect justice or fair play from Hindus. The realization of this fact was a factor in pushing Iqbal from the “Tarana-e-Hindi” to the “Tarana-e-Milli” and the Allahabad address of 1930. It also contributed to transforming Mohammad Ali Jinnah from the “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity” to the “Quaid-e-Azam of Pakistan.” But this wasn’t the only or most important factor in our ideology. It was, at best, a mere side note.
The ideology of Pakistan is nothing else than a vehement determination to create and run a state showcasing the unique Islamic virtues of justice, fair play, creativity, democracy, and culture.
And the fact of the matter is that our nation has been no more than a stain on this pristine vision until now. So, instead of advocating the “shedding” of this ideology in service of defeatism, perhaps we need to start working on first following that ideology.
In the 75 years of Pakistan, we have cried hoarse about ideology, but in a typical hypocritical manner, we have done precious little to actually serve that ideology. On the other hand, we have done a lot to undermine that ideology. I have no doubt that if we truly work and sacrifice to turn Iqbal’s vision into reality, both our security and economy will improve significantly. It isn’t the ideology that plagues us; it’s the hypocrisy, cowardice, and elite capture that have plagued us.
If I may turn the AVM’s phrase around: “Hypocrisy must never be the master. Ideology should be. Unless the hypocrisy born of indolence and cowardice is banished, it will fuel defeatism, which is completely misplaced and ruinous.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.